Come to Selfhood by Joshua Rashaad McFadden
In “Come to Selfhood”, Joshua Rashaad McFadden creates a moving record of young African-American men as they reveal how their lives have been defined by race and gender. We connect with the knowing gaze of the men in McFadden’s dignified portraits, each paired with a snapshot of his subject’s chosen father figure, who often looks touchingly innocent by comparison—and almost always the strong physical resemblance between son and mentor makes the relationship feel even more meaningful. These connections are deepened even further by the words of the sons, who often pay tribute to the legacy of these fathers who have shaped their views and bequeathed to them the confidence to be themselves.
-Elizabeth Krist, former Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic.
McFadden invited friends and acquaintances between the ages of 19 and 27 to a studio, where he asked them to complete a form with eight questions. He then made a portrait of each participant and combined it with selected excerpts from their handwritten questionnaire responses, along with archival photographs they provided of their fathers or father figures at approximately their same ages.
“All of that in combination basically is used to give the viewer or the reader a sense of who that person is,” he said.
The analogous images of fathers and sons strike a powerful chord, especially when paired with the questionnaires that meditate on the stereotypes they’ve confronted, the role models who’ve inspired them, and the lessons they’ve learned about how to be black in a world full of peril.
In his own entry for the book, McFadden writes about the positive influence of his father, grandfather, and mother in his life. It ends with a pledge to remain resolute in the face of oppression—a message that he’s had to remind himself of in the past couple weeks after the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.
“It makes me feel terrible what’s going on in this country, and it makes this project that much more urgent,” he said.